So we’re taking a break from cattle, vet medicine, and agriculture for a bit to talk about a highly controversial issue gripping the English-speaking world. No, not politics or the latest thing a Kardashian wore, but whether or not to use a comma before conjunctions such as “and” and “or”.
This comma, officially called the serial comma, but most commonly it is referred to as the Oxford comma. Okay, so if you are confused by what this debate it about, the sentences below will show you.
First, the Oxford comma…
Todd spent the afternoon dancing with bears, singing in the Alps, and painting with all the colors of the wind.
And now, sans Oxford comma…
Todd spent the afternoon dancing with bears, singing in the Alps and painting with all the colors of the wind.
The comma between “Alps” and “and” is the comma in question. Now, you may think this isn’t a big deal. The sentence makes sense either way (well, not the premise but the sentence structure). But consider this example.
Todd likes his friends, bears and the Green Bay Packers.
Now do you see the confusion? Does Todd have normal friends, who sit around the TV to watch the Packers game together on Sunday, and on Saturday he takes his children to the zoo to see bears? Or does Todd square dance with Aaron Rodgers and a grizzly bear on Saturday evenings?
Now the usage of an Oxford comma would answer our questions. But unfortunately, we will never know the truth, because this poor punctuation is maligned across the globe. For example, the New York Times, the Times, and The Guardian do not use it (but I did when listing them, so HA! Take that!).
As for me, I’d been moving away from using it for the past few blog posts and newspaper columns because it’s less common in those realms than in more formal writing and scientific journals. But a recent court case in Maine that hinged on the lack of an Oxford comma is drawing me back towards it.
So what will I do? Will I write with this comma, forsake the journalistic arguments against it, and favor the opinion of the essay manuals and scientific writing I used to do more? Or will I leave it out, forsake its existence and assume my readers can understand my point? More than likely, I’ll probably not think about it in the next blog post and whatever happens will be what gets posted. So it goes.